Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-Ind.) is rising in the chatterati polls. Russ Smith of Splice Today writes up the budget-cutting, hair-thinning Syrian American Hoosier as a plausible and much-needed corrective to both Barack Obama and Sarah Palin.
The Wash Post's resident Bush apologist/retread and anti-dancer Michael Gerson writes of Daniels, who has called for a truce in the culture wars and full frontal warfare on outta-control spending and overreach:
"It is difficult to imagine Daniels' rejection of uplift, ideology and activism appealing to the country at most times. But maybe, at this particular time, we are a nation in need of fewer messiahs and more OMB directors."
And Andy Ferguson of The Weekly Standard (and some time in Indiana as well) writes a long profile of the guy.
He treats waste in government as a moral offense. "Government isn't a business, and it shouldn't be run as a business," he said. "But it can be more like business. It has a lot to learn from businessmen." Government operates without the market pressures that produce efficiency and increase quality. The challenge for government leaders is to produce those pressures to economize internally, through an act of will. "Never take a dollar from a free citizen through the coercion of taxation without a very legitimate purpose," he said in an interview last year. "We have a solemn duty to spend that dollar as carefully as possible, because when we took it we diminished that person's freedom." When you put it like that, overspending by government seems un-American.
When Daniels took office, in 2004, the state faced a $200 million deficit and hadn't balanced its budget in seven years. Four years later, all outstanding debts had been paid off; after four balanced budgets, the state was running a surplus of $1.3 billion, which has cushioned the blows from a steady decline in revenues caused by the recession. "That's what saved us when the recession hit," one official said. "If we didn't have the cash reserves and the debts paid off, we would have been toast." The state today is spending roughly the same amount that it was when Daniels took office, largely because he resisted the budget increases other states were indulging in the past decade.